Tag Archives: the conflict of opposites

Jung on Transition

The transition from morning to afternoon means a revaluation of the earlier values. There comes the need to appreciate the value of the opposite of our former ideals, to perceive the errors in our former convictions, to recognize the untruth in our former truth, and to feel how much antagonism and even hatred lay in what, until now, had passed for love. — C.G. Jung

This is as true for the current cultural transition as it is for the personal one at mid-life. The individual tends to a more spiritual attitude in the second half of life; and though the cultural shift today may seem to be headed in the other direction, major psychic changes involve a conversion of opposites. One pole compensates the other in the same general process:

Much, indeed, can be attained by the will, but… it is a fundamental error to subject our own fate at all costs to our will. Our will is a function regulated by reflection; hence it is dependent on the quality of that reflection. This… is supposed to be rational, i.e., in accord with reason. But has it ever been shown, or will it ever be, that life and fate are in accord with reason? We have on the contrary good grounds for supposing that they are irrational… that in the last resort they are grounded beyond human reason.

I often wonder who reflects on such ideas as life or fate today. Life is — what it is. The philosophical reflection meant to distinguish self from other, to mediate the dual realities of subject and object, is lost to a mind that sees only a concrete world of things, and creativity is valued mostly for those aims. Personality development can’t keep pace with an obsessed intellect, and an opposed psychic reality, reflected in the mirror of ideological conflict, finds our relations no more rational today than a thousand years ago. Life is what it is; but, what about the other side of conscious reality: the one that created itself and us with it?

The irrationality of events is shown in what we call chance, which we are… compelled to deny because we cannot in principle think of any process which is not causal… whence it follows that it cannot happen by chance. In practice, however, chance reigns everywhere, and so obtrusively that we might as well put our causal philosophy in our pocket… Hence reason and the will that is grounded in reason is valid only up to a point…”

That point lies somewhere in the incredible violence we see on the news every day. Is it the repressed emotional reactions to the changes taking place today; the inertia of unconscious history? Though the hotbox in the Middle East did not arise by mere chance, we’re left to rush from one fire to the next in a flailing attempt to control the chance events created by decisions made centuries ago. A new world disaster is waiting to be ignited by similar ‘chance’ accidents.

Not a few of those who are driven into the conflict of opposites jettison everything that had previously seemed to them good and worth striving for; they try to live in complete opposition to their former ego… The snag about a radical conversion into one’s opposite is that one’s former life suffers repression and thus produces just as unbalanced a state as existed before…

All discord begins with the individual: how we engage the world, as persons or groups, reflects inner conditions. The existential uncertainties that once urged spiritual reflection and the need for moral perspective have been replaced by an illusory faith in the very rationalism that seems only to hasten our demise. Consciousness is the new religion, science the higher power.

On the other side of the rational Western faith, the regressive religious fervor in the Middle East shapes unconscious reactions; we confront the same primitive tendencies we fancied we’d mastered along with the material world. All are ruled by the inner anxieties of change and an uncertain future. Legions the globe over unconsciously seize upon this or that ideology to release their particular inner turmoil: collective images of the confusion rooted in the individual.

Those stable enough to resist being swept into the violence of radical ideology suffer the crosses of personal anxieties and compulsions to a degree unknown in the past: commercial consumption, economic disparity, static political parties, animal cruelty, gay rights, abortion, over-worked hair. You name it, we suffer from it; science, psychology, enlightenment and all. Ready-to-wear ideologies beckon compulsively for those unable to look into themselves.

That our own irrational natures, and not just chance and accident, might be portending the mid-life transition of an entire civilization may seem a distant idea. Yet, what we see today in the death-obsessions of increasing pockets of fanatics are not only inner symbols which circumscribe the passage from one stage to the next, but concrete realities enhanced by the worldly fixations of an advanced primate who can’t see into the strange psychic world it half created.

The other side of that strange unconscious psychic world seems to be the only reality science denies. Is that logical?

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Individuation and the Conflict of Opposites II

A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

Up to this point, ego has been turning in circles in its efforts to relieve the tension created by new contents pushing into consciousness. Page 88 continues this roundabout process which now leads to the first real attempt to establish a dialogue with the unconscious; the religious function has reached a pressure and intensity that can no longer be repressed. As the story of Job illustrates, this conflict is not resolved through external relations or collective forms. 

 It’s not a flight of fancy — it’s a real opposition;
His individuality prepared its recognition.
He’s stumbled on the purpose of internal tension:
To redefine and separate his thinking from the herd.
The individual is grounded in its reinvention                         
          Of the rigid values the collective has incurred.
It’s the burden of the past and the future it creates;
It puts a man at odds with what his soul relates.
Though by its own design it will ultimately lead
This man to re-evaluate the nature of his need.
          But his conflict must be further etched into relief
Before he can examine it in more detail.
He must court relations with the god beneath his grief
For any chance to see the man behind the veil.
 How will I get to know you?  What depth must I reach?
What fearful things will I do?  What laws must I breach?
You sit in darkness hid beneath the very thought
The light of knowledge fancied it could make appear.
Indirect emotions that but half-imagined brought
Your half-imagined purposes so faintly near
Are suddenly redoubled in a flood of dark concern
For the power you’ve awakened through the strange veneer
Of images my thought can only half-discern.
Old unfathomed riddles lie before me still
Staring starkly at the weakness I disdain;
Mocking the illusion of my conscious will
As I yet pretend to master what I can’t explain.
In fitful ways your mystery is living through me;
No wiser for it I am much less wise against it.
Are self-disdain and misery the light you’ve given to me
To illumine my fantasies had I but sensed it?
To cast a glow on shadow-worlds that hide your grace
From a man-child’s half-perception of reality?
Who only made himself unfit for your embrace
By clinging to a make-believe morality?
All your ways frighten me I cower and evade
Yet time and again misery exceeds my fear;
And the little light in me that once a heaven made
Again must suffer its bright world to disappear.             
You seemed insane though it was I who didn’t understand;
I fear I’m failing still and you will lose your patience.
There seems no let in all the crazy things you’ve planned
          To symbolize the sickness of my aberrations.
You’re only guiding me I know this in my brain —
Yet what a gaping wound now bleeds within in my heart!
Though I know it’s not your guidance filling me with pain
But my own desire sundering my life apart.
I can’t know your purpose through the fantasies I’m seeing;
Your piercing admonitions are my only light.
If somehow I could peer inside the deep well of being
I’d surely see the marvel of my own pretentious sight.
Your monstrous grace and its privilege I must entreat
For the only useful product it creates in me;        
Otherwise obscured by the harlequin of self-deceit
Ever stealing round the walls of thought’s credulity.
          Can I touch you in time?  In mind’s distant sphere?
When you tear these lovely veils of pretense from my eyes?
Will you be there?  Or only darkness circumscribe my fear
And my thinking then replace you with another form of lies?
I felt you once around the corpse of my dearest friend
And somehow through my agony you gave relief;
Though just enough for me to grimly apprehend
A wondrous thing beneath my agony and grief.
I know not how these enigmatic things occur —
Your living paradox is safe from modern thought.
As stupid and unwitting as my own intentions were
I then was only following what I was taught.
I’m sorry for it now — it was the only way I knew;
I feel its wrongness secreted within my soul.
But, for all the mystery in everything you do
I fear my misery’s the only thing I know.
Through Time and effort he will soon begin to see:
What draws this image to the surface is his misery.
But he must step outside the circle of his Christian past
And resist his childish notions of the Devil;
For the psychic chains they represent now bind him fast
And prohibit him from searching on a deeper level.
Though he long ago pronounced such things a fairytale
They still form the basis of his valuations.
This defines the very point where intellect will fail:
          The Christian myth describes emotional foundations.
A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious 

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Individuation and the Conflict of Opposites

This piece from, A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious, picks up on page 78 with the Oddly Shaped Man (the conscious standpoint) struggling under the tension of opposites. Along with repressed emotions, the pressures of new, creative contents from the unconscious increase the momentum of the individuation process, now perceived as an “alien will” as ego is openly confronted with the demand for wholeness…

My head circles wildly as I strain with all my might;
All around me lay the pieces of the ghosts I fight.
I’ve forced apart the gates of my own humanity
Staggered weary to the furthest reach of sanity;                     
My own heart I’ve writhed and cried and suffered inside out —
Yet unappeased still labor on uncertainty and doubt.
          Hemmed in by God on all sides like Job he struggles;
          And his pursuit means other things pursue him too.
          Relentlessly the feeling-world his thinking juggles
          Brings him closer to the conflict of his conscious view.
          The torment thrust upon him from this dark abyss
Is Nature’s dispatch to a partial consciousness:
She strives now to inform him of her wants and needs
And give him strength to follow on the path she leads.
How a man must carry on when he is forced to see
That the life he once conceived is not Reality!
He may feel his little world is being torn apart
But in fact it’s being put together quite unseen;
And he’s further than he knows from the inside of his heart
Or his notions of insanity and what they mean. 
He’s not the victim of an angry god’s invective
Sending wrathful thunderbolts of punishment and pain.
He must remind himself the process is objective;
To think outside his merely personal domain.
But how else can his trembling thought be made to see:
His life is subject to a fate he can’t control?
That beneath his thinking is a greater force than he
Seeking to reveal to him the nature of his soul?
This obscure moral process must depend on more
Than simply choosing to obey a god’s command.
Which god will he obey?  Which one will he implore?
When two crossed gods of equal strength before him stand?
One is right the other wrong according to his view:         
The great deception of the life he knew before;
Yet however he perceives it there is little he can do
For his former life is gone and Nature’s closed that door.
The one she opens now brings the opposites to light
Unveiling secret truths beyond his preconception
To temper with a new sight the views of wrong and right
Which form the basis of his modern self-perception.
It will expose the partial attitude of consciousness
Flitting round its fantasies in airy self-pursuit
In the highest branches of the tree of righteousness
Thinking it had planted all the seeds of Love and Truth —
Though half-acknowledged grew to be a thing of wretchedness
And in the end bore little more than ignorance as fruit.
The cheap facade he financed with the treasure in his soul
Is quickly running out of credit with the man below.
The life he once invested in is out of his control
For the loan’s conditions call for more than he could know.
The debt accruing from his youthful self-deception
Must be fully rendered from the life he leaves behind
Until it is depleted of his half-perception
And he accepts the humble place his misery assigned.
This task has led him down inside the knotted sphere     
Concealing images his thinking long repressed.
How he perceives the inner man is hidden here
Whose image only surfaces when he’s depressed.
But repression and depression are in fact related
To form the tension aiming at a new direction.
He must fight them both for how his thinking has created
This upside-down collision with his own reflection… 

                                Mental Health as a Social Concept

The conflict of opposites deeply affects consciousness as it begins to withdraw its projections from the external world and accept its struggle internally, fostering the recognition of a higher spiritual authority. The more frightening, rejected aspects of the personality then begin to impress themselves as living values with a vital meaning for the individual. The fear and anxiety of losing control is tempered by reflection. Jung once wrote that no one who ever had any wits is in danger of losing them in this process; however, there are many who never knew until then what their wits were for. 

          The concept of one’s mental health is relative indeed;
Primarily a social one for cultures to assess
The useful products of the citizens they breed
To work within the sanction of the values they profess.
But a culture has no conscious point of reference:
No place outside itself to judge its valuations;
Its health or sickness no criterion for deference             
To its own psychology or that of other nations.
Every man appears to suffer likewise from this fate
Though facts do not support this from a natural perspective:
The psyche functions in a way itself to regulate
And beyond his preconceptions lives its own corrective…
 More info here: A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

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A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations with the Unconscious

A Subjective Study of Science, Religion, and Consciouness

A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

For those interested in new interpretations of old ideas, this post describes a very different kind of book, many years in its development. If you choose to read it, if you’re interested in the relations between conscious and unconscious, between man and nature, science and religion, it will be among the most original books you’ll ever read. It will likely upset your ideas of what your mind is for, just as it upset mine when I was forced by my own illusions (and those I inherited) to come to terms in some way with the unconscious.

It’s well known that new and original ways of looking at things take time to sink in, at least for those revolving around the self-flattering notions of who we think we are — or should or would be. Centuries-old religious ideals convince us even today that we can be who we “should” or would be, simply by believing it. This is the age-old way of ego, and most will remain convinced of its illusion as a defense against the unconscious — or, if you prefer, a God who makes demands on us and not just a comforting image of wishful thinking in times of despair.

The scientific view is equally convinced of this same illusion, having inherited it as duly as one is born with eyes and ears. Though, with no conception of a Deity but only an unconscious will to power, it seeks to “conquer” an external nature without taking serious note that she also works within; and dangerously so, for the double-sided hubris of humanity has been recorded since biblical times. The artificial reality we’ve spent millennia to achieve has become so toxic today, however, the current form of education will not much longer support it…

Based on the psychology of C. G. Jung and inspired by Goethe’s Faust, this book is a poetic description of the change in perspective prompted by the mid-life transition. For many, it will be only an odd curiosity. But for those who are deeply moved by this process, to confront the strange, symbolic figures which lead into the collective unconscious, this book will serve as a living example of the ideas and emotions encountered when an exchange, a dialogue, is entered into with the other side.

The subtitle, A Subjective Study of Science, Religion, and Consciousness, reflects the spiritual character of the philosophical depths to which these figures point; for as Jung wrote: because the unconscious consists of a living history of our mental functioning, any serious inquiry into it leads straight into the religious problem.

This problem is grounded in the opposites, and old religious ideas of good and evil still form the foundations of our world-views, whether we accept them consciously or not. They’re how we secretly see ourselves; how we relate to a greater whole both within and without, formed over centuries of intense concentration on the puzzling contradictions of subjective thought.

A major shift in values marks today’s fascination with science and technology, and the spiritual/emotional functions it ignores and represses only multiply the unforeseen consequences they create. The wisdom required to comprehend them is not accessible to the blind quest for rational facts — as if they alone would reconcile the inner division which is our fate.

Lacking an orientation to the inner counter-pole of the unconscious, we can only relate to it through the old concepts. But, these no longer suffice the complexity, the subtlety and diversity, the relativity of the changes taking place today. Without serious re-examination of our repressive view of nature and the psyche, we are only led deeper into the hidden snares which threaten from the dark shadows of an unconscious earthly reality.

Today, information and knowledge have become compensations for wisdom. The paradox is that the wisdom we need is secreted away in the knowledge we’ve repressed: the undeveloped soul of a human animal who yet sees nature as an antagonist and cannot accept the double laws of her demands. As a return for that, we’ve become our own greatest problem — and nature’s as well.

This book isn’t a remedy for this problem. It’s a way to identify and accept it; to find new ways to confront it; to enter a new psychological stage in nature’s ceaseless urge for development.

See Amazon.

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